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Thursday, January 9, 2014

What India Taught Me


As the last day of any holiday draws nearer, that familiar anxious feeling inevitably seeps slowly back into my body. My tummy is a knot of ice and butterflies. Unopened emails and the ignored bills of the pre-holiday excitement period too suddenly become dark clouds hanging over my sun lounger. The old faithful thoughts of “Isn’t this what life is really supposed to be?” and “How could anyone survive a lifetime behind a desk?” crowd my mind and the pages of my frivolous holiday reading material seem to turn themselves as the words swim, unread, before my eyes.


My three weeks in India felt, at first, like impossibly long, leisurely days. My time was, gloriously, completely my own and I crammed as much exploration and soaked up as many of the new things around me as I could fit into each cycle of 24 hours. The first week felt like three. Inevitably, the last three days slipped by in what felt like six hours.

On my last day in Kerala, I felt physically ill for the first time all holiday. As if to mirror my mood, grey clouds hung over the normally sunny stretch of Varkala Beach and I lay in my room, dressed in the hoodie that had spent the past three weeks stuffed into the bottom of my bag, suddenly cold, a feeling I hadn't experienced since I stepped off the plane in Mumbai.


Thoughts of the work responsibilities, unfinished projects and unresolved arguments of home, thoughts that had seemed so far away just a few days ago, made my head ache, my skin feel cold and sensitive to the slightest touch and my stomach cramp with waves of anxiety. As I lay under the thin covers on my bed which remained made up all holiday, pulling them up right under my chin, I stared blankly at the ceiling, my limbs sinking heavily into the mattress. I just lay there, watching the fan spin lazily, mocking me and the feeling that I was running out of time with its sheer nonchalance. I tried to reconcile these feelings of dread with the incredible excitement that came with knowing I’d be coming home to new love and the comforts of the familiar.

By the time I boarded the last stretch of my journey back to Cape Town in Dubai, all I could think about was home. My people. My things. My love. It’s strange how easily we forget. How quickly our hearts and minds can push away the comforts of home to make space only for the new and exciting. My every sense was completely overloaded in India. All the colours and smells, the food, the people, the heat. The energy and the inexplicably, beautifully, organized chaos. The slow and simple way of life, even in the busiest parts of Mumbai.

Everything seemed better. Better than my life back home. I surfed every day. I practiced yoga every day. The simple Indian way of life and the beautiful way in which the Indian people believe and rely on natural medicine appealed to me tremendously. I was in love with India and the Indian way of life. But of course I was, I was on holiday, wasn’t I?


I’ve only been back for three weeks, but already it feels like India is six months behind me. But a funny thing has happened since I got back. People keep telling me, “You’ve changed” “You’re glowing” and happily, “You are so tanned!” Very subtly, almost without even noticing it, my mind-set has slowly changed. My anxiety at the prospect of coming back to real life has, since returning, been replaced by energy, drive. The tasks that seemed so daunting and exhausting during my last few days in India are being handled with a new calmness.

The first few days after I came back to work were excruciating. I came back from this life-changing experience of solo travel in India and went straight back to my desk. I felt like everything about me had changed, while everything back here had stayed exactly the same. Everything was exactly as I had left it.

All I could think about in those first few days was escaping. Maybe I could work as an au pair somewhere overseas. How could I find some temporary work in a country where people went to the beach at every opportunity? Could I convince my new love to throw caution to the wind and join me? 



I felt confused and sad. I was depressed. Every time anyone asked “So how was India?!” I could have burst into tears. I kept repeating, “Ah, it was so amazing!” feeling ashamed at how feeble my attempts were at conveying what it truly meant to me were.

But Christmas and family, time with friends and time at home filled my days with happiness. Summer in Cape Town is a special time and I started to realize that much of what I was looking for was already here. A melting pot of cultures and people, food to eat, things to do and places to see. And my time in India has taught me so much. Since my return, I really do see every day is an opportunity to see something beautiful and do something exciting. The Indian mind-set seems to have had an impact on me and I try not to let the small stuff freak me out. And better than being alone in a foreign place, there are people I love to do this with. I already live in a place where people go to the beach on a regular basis.

In one episode of Modern Family, Phil Dunphy says to the camera, ““That’s the funny thing about marriage. You fall in love with this extraordinary person and over time, they begin to seem ordinary… I think it’s all the nagging.”

Isn’t that how you feel about your life sometimes? You have this amazing thing called ‘life’. It’s so beautiful and magical and sometimes you forget that and you just wish you could have a different one. Or you wish you could divorce your boring old life and go out and get drunk and make out with better lives.

Life is full of nagging. Bosses and bills and email inboxes; wanderlust and itchy feet. These things nag and nag at you and make you resent the life you live. But sometimes it takes a trip to a whole new country, and a love-affair with something new and different, to remind you just how special and fantastic your own life is. Because sometimes it’s boring and stale and causes stomach ulcers, but it’s yours. And you can make of it what you wish. If you work at it, if you make an effort, you’ll see just how beautiful it is and how beautiful it can be.

I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions. I find it difficult enough sticking to Monday morning’s resolution to wash my makeup off every night that week by Monday night. But something I’m going to work hard at this year, is being excited about my life.

Today I walked through the streets of beautiful, clean, vibrant Cape Town to meet my ridiculously wonderful boyfriend for lunch. I walked passed small groups of people speaking in foreign languages. People who were seeing my home with the same eyes I had seen India through.

If I wanted to, I could go for a walk on any one of several of the most beautiful beaches in the world right now. I could go for dinner at some of the world’s best restaurants. I could cuddle up on the couch of my comfortable home with a bottle of some of the world’s best wine. I could climb a mountain, surf a wave, or dive with seals. And I could do it with people I love, who love me back.

I know that I’ll always want to travel. And I always will travel. To me, that is the meaning of life. I believe that seeing new places and meeting new people, gaining experience and knowledge, digesting it all, throwing out some and keeping the rest, this is the path to truly finding and exploring yourself.

Thank you India, for being the most incredible place I’ve ever visited. And for reminding me to appreciate and love the incredible home I have come back to. I'll never stop learning from the new places I visit. Here's to 2014.


UPDATE: AUGUST 2014

This year, I'm trying to get back to India for one month of solo travel. If every person who reads this blog contributes $1, I'll be able to make my dream come true!

Find out more and contribute here: A Month In Incredible India


10 comments:

  1. Ah man. This hit home. Feel exactly the same :) Love it - so well written!

    www.midlandsmusings.com

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  2. SUCH a beautiful post! So glad you had the most incredible time in India Natalie - *clink clink* to an awesome 2014!

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  3. Stunning Natalie! Such an amazing lesson to have learnt and to remind us all of! Have an awesom 2014

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  4. Natalie. I'm so in love with your writing skillz.

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  5. Absolutely loved this post! I feel exactly the same, it is strange how we forget we live in a country that people are desperate to travel too. Although I will also always want to travel somewhere new to experience something new and learn something new, home is great too. Love your writing in this post too :)

    www.femmegypsy.com

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  6. Lovely post meisie :-) we should go surfing!

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  7. This piece sums up exactly what I want out of life. But I am left with a feeling of hopelessness...Always thinking "someday it will happen". But at the moment I see the world and all its greatness revolving around money. If you have it, then great you can experience the world in all its glory, if not, you are stuck in a mundane life with all the accompanying shitty realities.

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